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This is the program for the Primer Festival de Arte de Vanguardia [First Festival of Avant-Garde Art] presented at the Galería de Arte La Nacional in the city of Cali, from June 16 through July 1, 1965 by artists who were members of the nadaísta [Nothing-ist] movement. In addition to listing the schedule of presentations, lectures, and plays, this folded document includes the names (intertwined and written in a very gestural form of calligraphy) of the Colombian artists Pedro Alcántara Herrán and Norman Mejía; the names are arranged to look like the head of a body, outlined in a most expressive style. The fold divides the document into four sections: in the first one there is a photograph of the draughtsman and printmaker Alcántara Herrán and sentences interspersed with the names of famous international writers and painters. The second section contains the bios of the playwrights Edward Albee and Samuel Beckett, the authors of “The Zoo Story” and “Act Without Words” (respectively), the two plays that were staged at the Festival with Colombian actors. The third section lists the schedule of presentations and lectures by the young writers Jota Mario Arbeláez, Elmo Valencia, Gonzalo Arango, Eduardo Escobar, and the art critic Marta Traba. In the fourth section there is a photograph of the painter Norman Mejía and a few sentences with no apparent connection.       


In the 1970s Cali was a trendsetting city in Colombia; not just because of the international cultural events that were held there, but also because it was the site for alternative events like the Festival de Arte de Vanguardia [Festival of Avant-Garde Art]—organized by the nadaísta [Nothing-ist] group—that is fondly remembered by artists and intellectuals of that generation.  


The group—that included the writers Gonzalo Arango (1931-1976), Jotamario Arbeláez (b. 1940), and Elmo Valencia (b. 1926), and the artist Pedro Alcántara (b. 1942), and enjoyed the support of Jesús Ordóñez, the owner of the Librería Nacional [National Bookstore]—used humor and irony to challenge the Festival de Arte de Cali [Cali Art Festival] (the official Festival) by simultaneously presenting the Festival de Arte de Vanguardia from 1965 through 1969 as a countercultural response. Nadaísmo [Nothing-ism] thus fielded an irreverent, contrary, anti-official event that challenged the status quo. This document is the only surviving trace of the event that has been found to date; it is currently held by the artist Pedro Alcántara Herrán.  


The writer Gonzalo Arango stirred up criticism of the Academy and the Esso novel writing contest, and his presentation “El streap-tease de lo prohibido” [The Strip Tease of the Forbidden] on opening night was, according to the author, an anti-literary statement.  


The critic and art curator Miguel González points out that the Avant-Garde Art Festivals, like the theater of the absurd, were a forum for the first Happenings—for example, skits starring two young, provocative artists (Alcántara and Mejía) at the “La Nacional” Art Gallery. Working together in front of the Festival’s first night audience, they produced the famous “painted presentation”—an erotic work on an enormous canvas—described by the art historian Álvaro Medina (b. 1942) as “feverish subjectivism” and “juvenile arousal” that transformed their “inner anguish” into a spectacle (see Pedro Alcántara’s “Plástica combativa” [Combative Visual Arts], doc. # 1078566). The “Action-Program” of that first festival included stage productions by Santiago García; poetry readings by Eduardo Escobar; films by Sergei Eisenstein and Robert Wiene, shown by Jaime Vásquez, a member of a film club; and the following lectures: “La cultura de la incultura en Colombia” [The Culture of the Lack of Culture in Colombia] by Marta Traba; “El nadaísmo a la luz de las explosiones” [Nada-ism by the Light of Explosions] by Jotamario [Arbeláez], and Valencia’s presentation accompanied by electronic music. The Festival closed on July 1, 1965 with a round table discussion headlined “Consejo de guerra verbal al arte contemporáneo” [Verbal Court Martial of Contemporary Art] that included Gonzalo Arango, Elmo Valencia, Jotamario, Norman Mejía, Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Alcántara, and the theater director Santiago García (b. 1928).

Katia González Martínez/ Adriana María Ríos Díaz
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Pedro Alcantara Herrán, Cali, Colombia